· Benny Leonard announces his retirement
After a thoroughly dominant reign, Leonard stepped down on 15th January 1925. Logically, an elimination tournament was held and the finalists were Jimmy Goodrich of the USA and Stanislaus Loayza of Chile. In the tournament, Goodrich had beaten Sammy Mandell on a foul and Benny Valger on points, while Loayza had beaten Tommy White and Cirilin Olano, both inside the distance. Subsequently, Goodrich flattened Loayza in two rounds to become the new champ.
· Barney Ross moves up to welterweight
After making just one successful defence, Ross headed north in weight. Left to resume the world championship was the superb former champion, Tony Canzoneri, who had beaten the likes of Jack “Kid” Berg and Kid Chocolate on his previous reign. Since losing the championship to Ross, he had defeated Kid Chocolate again, the dangerous Frankie Klick and Baby Arizmendi to stay on top. Meanwhile, snapping at his heels was Lou Ambers, who had victories over quality opposition such as Sammy Fuller and Jackie Jadick on his record.
Ambers and Canzoneri squared off on 10th May 1935 to decide who would be Ross’s successor, with Canzoneri emerging as the winner on points.
A boxing collector’s card featuring Sammy Angott
· Sammy Angott announces his retirement
Somewhat surprisingly, Angott quit the sport in 1942 (only to make a comeback later, which surprised no one). What followed was the usual muddle that can only be resolved by the leading contenders facing each other. Bob Montgomery and Beau Jack swapped New York state recognition between them, with Montgomery ultimately winning the final bout of their mini-series.
While the Montgomery-Jack rivalry was unfolding, Ike Williams burst onto the scene as a rival claimant by stopping Juan Zurita in two rounds. To finally settle matters, Williams stepped into the ring with Montgomery on 4th August 1947 and stopped him in six rounds.
· Roberto Duran moves up to welterweight
After a fabulous reign in which he cleaned up the division, Duran moved up in weight to seek new challenges. Naturally, the alphabet groups were in disagreement as to who should fill the vacancy. Thank goodness Alexis Arguello came along.
On 20th June 1981, Arguello soundly defeated WBC belt-holder Jim Watt and went on to beat Ray Mancini, who subsequently took the WBA belt from Art Frias, leaving Arguello in the dominant position. Prior to Frias holding the WBA title, Sean O’Grady had been unfairly stripped of it (for failing to defend it against someone called Claude Noel). O’Grady was then crushed in two rounds by Andrew Ganigan on 31st October 1981. Arguello and Ganigan met on 22nd May 1982 to bring some semblance of order back to the division, and Arguello prevailed in the 5th round to establish himself as the true champ.
Arguello (right) in action against Ray Mancini
· Alexis Arguello moves up to welterweight
Arguello followed the path previously taken by Duran and once again the lightweight class immediately descended into a state of confusion, with the alphabet groups seemingly handing out belts to any half-decent contender who didn’t have one. As is often the case, none of the alphabet belt-holders were inclined to tackle their counterparts and instead favoured milking their titles for all they were worth (and that’s not much) against so-so challengers. Of course, some champs are willing to face the stiffest compeition to prove themselves, but "it takes two to tango", does it not? Nevertheless, tough competition can’t be avoided forever, and on 21st November 1987, Edwin Rosario lost his WBA crown to Julio Cesar Chavez, and thankfully Chavez was of the admirable breed that are all-too-keen to face the best and make things happen.
Going into the summer of 1988, Jose Luis Ramirez held the WBC belt and Greg Haugen held the IBF belt, but Haugen was a full level below as the IBF belt had a weak history (at this point in time the IBF was still relatively new and most quality fighters were not interested in their spurious titles). Ramirez had beaten the aforementioned Rosario, plus good opposition such as Terrence Alli, Cornelius Boza-Edwards and Pernell Whitaker (albeit with a highly controversial decision). When Chavez beat Ramirez on 29th October 1988 he gained universal recognition is the genuine world champion.
· Julio Cesar Chavez moves up to welterweight
It was a shame that Chavez did not hang out around once he had established himself as the rightful champ at lightweight; he had the potential to become one of the greatest lightweights ever, along with Leonard and Duran. Instead, he hightailed it into the so-called junior welterweight class (in reality he became a welterweight) and turned into just another alphabet titlist, holding a belt that was no different to the multitude of others that are floating around and just as easy to get. However, there was only a short gap before the next true champ was created, and that distinction belonged to Pernell Whitaker.
After Chavez’s departure, Edwin Rosario picked up the WBA belt, but he had been stopped on 3rd November 1984 in a rematch with Jose Luis Ramirez, so his claim could be dismissed, and on 20th August 1989, Ramirez had a second showdown with Whitaker. With the vacant WBC belt at stake (in itself nothing to get excited about), Whitaker avenged his earlier loss to Ramirez with a lopsided decision. As Whitaker had already taken the IBF title from Greg Haugen, his rematch with Ramirez could be considered as being for the vacant world championship.
Whitaker was a brilliant defensive specialist
· Pernell Whitaker moves up to welterweight
Whitaker became yet another genuine champion who moved up in weight, though he at least made six successful defences before doing so. Once again, the division plunged into chaos with anyone and everyone scrambling for the vacant alphabet belts. In 1995, Boxing Illustrated magazine, which was listing one true champion per division, recognized the bout between Oscar De La Hoya and Rafael Ruelas on 6th May as being for the vacant world title.
De La Hoya was undefeated at the time and held wins over the previously unbeaten Jimmi Bredahl and, more significantly, Juan Molina. Ruelas had an impressive record himself; his victims included Darryl Tyson and Freddie Pendleton. Although De La Hoya had the WBO title and Ruelas had the IBF title, more importantly they were deemed as the top two lightweights in the world at the time. Was there anyone else? Orzubek Nazarov had the WBA title, but he had only won that from Dingaan Thobela, who in turn had won it from Tony Lopez, who had won it from the mediocre Joey Gamache, who had been awarded it by beating the obscure Chil-Sung Chun (anyone ever heard of him?). So with the WBA title having a weak history, De La Hoya and Ruelas were clearly the frontrunners in the 135 lb class and the winner of their contest (which was De La Hoya) could be regarded as the legitimate champion.
· Oscar De La Hoya moves up to welterweight
The lightweight division was seemingly cursed with a growing trend of an established champion moving up in weight (De La Hoya was the 5th consecutive lineal titlist to do this; see above). The inevitable slide into the swamp of alphabet bedlam occurred, which the alphabet groups appear to yearn for, probably rubbing their hands with glee at being able to take advantage of the mess and brainwashing all concerned parties into believing that holding their 3-lettered trinket was absolutely essential. It should be noted that De La Hoya would have been a superstar with or without an alphabet title; he was the attraction, not the title.
Jean-Baptiste Mendy of France took the WBA belt from Orzubek Nazarov, but Mendy had previously held the WBC belt and had lost that to Steve Johnston of the USA. It should be highlighted here that although Mendy had lost to Johnston, he could still call himself a “world champion” courtesy of his win over Nazarov. This is typical of the infuriating situation caused by so many titles being up for grabs. Still, anyone with reasonable knowledge of the fight game would know that Mendy’s claim was dismissable. Meanwhile, the supremely talented Shane Mosley sprang forth armed with the IBF title and both he and Johnston were viewed as the two best in the division. Sadly, they never fought each other and in 1999, Mosley moved up to welterweight. This left Johnston as top dog.
On 17th June 2000, Johnston lost a close decision to Jose Luis Castillo of Mexico, who therefore took over as top dog. There was a rematch on 15th September the same year and the outcome was a draw, so Johnston remained in the picture but Castillo had the edge because of the result in their first encounter. On 20th April 2002, Castillo faced Floyd Mayweather and The Ring magazine recognized this bout as being for the vacant true world title. It was a sensible choice as Mayweather had an eye-catching record; he had beaten Genaro Hernandez, Angel Manfredy, Carlos Hernandez, Jesus Chavez and Diego Corrales. Whether Mayweather was supposed to have been a so-called junior lightweight is irrelevant; that weight class is superfluous and Castillo and Mayweather were the best fighters weighing between 126 and 135 lbs. Mayweather won a decision over Castillo.
Mayweather in training
· Floyd Mayweather moves up to welterweight
What a surprise! Another consecutive lineal lightweight champ moves up in weight! After Mayweather vacated in 2004, Jose Luis Castillo remained in a premier position. He had lost a disputed verdict to Mayweather and also lost a rematch (more decisively this time) but his earlier win over Steve Johnston kept him on the scene and he had won three straight fights since his bouts with Mayweather. Of course, it was no shame losing to a major talent like Mayweather and Castillo’s status had not really diminished because of it.
The key figure in deciding who would be the next rightful champ was actually Johnston, who had drawn with Castillo in their return match which enabled him to retain a high ranking, right behind Castillo. But on 13th September 2003, Johnston suffered an 11th round stoppage loss to Juan Lazcano of Mexico. Therefore, Lazcano took over from Johnston as number two in the division and when he faced Castillo on 5th June 2004 (after Mayweather left the division) that could be for the vacant world championship (and this was supported by The Ring). Castillo won on points. There were other notable contenders on the scene at the time, such as Acelino Freitas of Brazil and Erik Morales of Mexico, but none had beaten a fighter as highly-ranked as Johnston.
· Juan Manuel Marquez moves up to welterweight
Although he hadn't exactly cleaned out the division, Marquez was still an outstanding champion who had been involved in some memorable shoot-outs (the first fight with Juan Diaz in 2009 and the clash with Michael Katsidis in 2010). Entering 2012, he was obviously in the twilight stage of a long and glittering career (he had turned pro in 1993) and perhaps the two most intriguing opponents for him (Brandon Rios and Robert Guerrero) were almost certainly not going to compete at lightweight again. Presumably with no big names to keep him at 135 lbs, Marquez opted to move up in weight. Of course, it is a far better state of affairs to have a champion than no champion at all (and this refers to a true, genuine champion and not a bunch of alphabet title-holders all squabbling for recognition yet not facing each other). Thankfully, Terence Crawford came along to step into the breach. Hailing from Omaha, Nebraska, Crawford beat decent opposition such as Breidis Prescott of Colombia and previously undefeated up-and-comer Andrey Klimov of Russia on his way to the top. On 1st March 2014, he looked fabulous in easily beating Scotland's Ricky Burns to win an alphabet belt and followed that with an even more impressive victory over outstanding Cuban star Yuriorkis Gamboa. At this stage, Crawford was certainly the best lightweight in the world.
Other leading lightweights at the time were Richar Abril of Cuba and Miguel Vasquez of Mexico. However, Crawford's wins over Burns and Gamboa placed him ahead of them in terms of overall quality of opposition. On 29th November 2014, Crawford faced Raymundo Beltran of Mexico. Beltran had previously beaten a good fighter in Henry Lundy of the USA on 27th July 2012 and went on to battle Ricky Burns to a draw on 7th September 2013, though most observers thought Beltran's great performance was more than enough to earn him the decision. Crawford was mesmerizing when he outpointed Beltran and both "The Ring" magazine and the Cyber Boxing Zone website recognized him as the new genuine world lightweight champion.
· Terence Crawford moves up to welterweight
Unfortunately, Crawford's reign turned out to be brief due to his struggle to make the 135 lb limit. In early 2015, he abdicated without making a defence. Would the lightweight crown remain vacant for long? Thankfully, it wasn't too long. "The Ring" magazine recognized the winner of the bout between Jorge Linares of Venezuela and Anthony Crolla of the UK on 24th September 2016 as the new legitimate world champion. It could be argued that this bout gained recognition almost by default; leading contenders following Crawford's departure from the division included Omar Figueroa of the USA and Rances Barthelemy of Cuba but they moved up to welterweight, which paved the way for Linares and Crolla to advance to the forefront. In the summer of 2016, Linares was generally viewed as the best lightweight in the world and so any bout for the lineal championship needed to include him. Crolla was not quite as accomplished but he had risen through the ranks with wins over decent opponents Darleys Perez of Colombia and Ismael Barroso of Venezuela.
Other highly-ranked contenders at the time were Terry Flanagan, also from the UK, and Dejan Zlaticanin of Montenegro. They were essentially on an equal footing with Crolla and a case can be made for a clash between Linares and any of them to be recognized as being for the vacant genuine world championship. As it turned out, it was Crolla who got the gig.
It should be pointed out here that the Lineal Champs website is not a sanctioning body. It does not issue world title belts and is not in competition with anybody. This website is more of a record-keeper. There are a number of outfits that recognize one genuine world champion per division (such as "The Ring" magazine, the Cyber Boxing Zone website and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board). Some of these outfits recognize the same champ, but not always. And sometimes even a suitable fight that could clearly be given recognition as being for a genuine world championship is missed (a fine example of this is the featherweight clash between Leo Santa Cruz and Carl Frampton on 30th July 2016, a seemingly obvious world championship calibre battle that the aforementioned outfits sadly overlooked). The greedy, self-serving alphabet groups are unfortunately not going to vanish overnight and what boxing needs is uniformity. If these outfits that promote the notion of one proper world champion in each division all recognized the same champ it would be a great help in establishing uniformity. Let's hope that more than just "The Ring" magazine come to recognize Linares as the true champ after he impressively outpointed Crolla in Crolla's home city of Manchester.